There are too many distractions that online learners fall prey to: social-networking updates, most-watched videos on YouTube, or the forever-trending discounts on eCommerce sites, just to name a few. Keeping learners focused and engaged has thus become a key challenge for educators today. Rather than using the age-old classroom techniques, here are some newer ways to address this issue that I have found make a real difference.

1. Use micro interactions

An ideal micro interaction is one that the learner can complete in less than five minutes. Micro interactions can be parts of longer courses, but broken down into smaller chunks and converted into a series of short independent learning modules. Presenting content through micro interactions helps keep a learner’s engagement level high with a short and to-the–point activity. Before the learner’s attention span begins to fall off, the interaction is generally complete.

2. Make it fun

Adding games to online learning enables learners to engage with the subject matter in a different way from book-based learning or page-turner type courses. Playing games allows learners to apply multiple skills while they navigate through content to reach a goal. Learners, regardless of their age or gender, almost always have fun and find gaming to be quite engaging.

3. Pose Challenges

Challenges are a great way to grab learners’ attention and keep them motivated.  Challenging someone on her beliefs, or telling her she’s wrong, can often motivate a person to prove her point to you. When a learner is challenged, it puts her at risk and she tends to pay more attention. You definitely need to craft the challenges in a way to generate the right kind of motivation in the learner. 

4. Give meaningful feedback

Feedback, whether reinforcing or remedial, encourages learners to continue learning because they know they are accomplishing something. Giving regular and meaningful feedback motivates a learner to do better. Instead of single word feedback (“good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong”), providing informative and detailed feedback can reinforce the key points of learning. An effective method of providing this feedback is to incorporate audio, thereby giving a personal touch to the learning experience.

5. Present your content creatively

With the changing behavior and preferences of learners, it’s time for educators to change their presentation style. Simple bullet lists, or long lines of text with simple images, is no longer going to engage your learners. You need to present content in a more creative fashion. Instead of simple text, you could use interactive elements. Some of my favorites for presenting content in an interactive fashion include Raptivity’s flipbook, pyramid, drag-drop-sort, and tabs. For exercises, instead of a simple assessment, you can use games like spin the wheel, a feud game show, or million-dollar quiz style assessments to engage learners in a more creative way.

6. Allow for (learner controlled) easy navigation

Mandating that a learner follow the lecturer-defined path is a sure way to disengage the learner. Instead, allow learners to select their own learning path and traverse the course in the way they prefer. With the proper checks and balances within a course, learners tend to explore the content and you have given them the motivation to seek and learn.

Incorporating these techniques in your online courses can help online learners become more engaged with you and the learning content. I would love to know if you follow any other techniques that could help engage online learners better.